Tunnel under rebuilt 14th Street bridge span to link Riverwalk

Half the $5.5 million in federal economic stimulus funding invested in Columbus’ 14th Street bridge renovation is nowhere to be seen.

That’s because it’s underwater, architect Neil Clark of the firm Hecht Burdeshaw told government and business leaders gathered Thursday at the River Club to welcome Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden to town.

One reason the state DOT years ago found the bridge no longer suitable for vehicle traffic was that 100 years of river flow had scoured voids in its concrete foundation at the river’s bedrock, Clark said. Metal rebar within the structure was rusting away.

All that has been fixed, the bridge foundation stabilized and most of its 700 feet from Columbus to Phenix City resurfaced with decorative paving and landscaping, making it ready for visitors viewing those using the Chattahoochee River whitewater course below.

One reason for Golden’s visiting Columbus was to tour the project, the first phase of which is now complete.

There’s more to come, as 70-100 feet at the bridge’s east end remains unstable and unpaved. That will be another project, costing about $1.5 million, for which the state is expected to pay, Clark said.

Inspectors have determined the bridge there is “structurally insufficient” and must be demolished and rebuilt, said Clark, adding plans for the work await state approval.

What may interest Chattahoochee RiverWalk users more than what goes atop that span is what will go below it: a tunnel that routes people under the bridge, connecting north and south ends of the riverside pathway.

The tunnel will have a rectangular shape, about 20 feet wide, 12 feet tall and 30 feet long, Clark said. Within it will be brightly lighted for safety, he said. This next phase of bridge work is expected to start in December, he said.

Also relevant to the Riverwalk was another transportation topic discussed Thursday, the transportation special local option sales tax some call the “T-SPLOST,” the collection of which begins in January.

State transportation board member Sam Wellborn of Columbus said the tax will provide $250 million over 10 years for Columbus, about $235,000 a month.

Clark said one local project it will fund is the construction of two Riverwalk bridges to route users over the North Highlands dam in Bibb City, where currently people have to leave the riverside and take streets to go around the dam.